Human dignity and consent in research biobanking
AbstractBiobanking policy needs to take into account the concept of human dignity, because this concept is enshrined in both international and South African law. The accepted understanding of informed consent, which is also required by law, is inadequate for biobanking because it is often not possible to inform people of possible uses of their stored tissue.
If human dignity is understood as a multidimensional concept that corresponds to the multidimensionality of the human person, then
human dignity can be said to be both (i) something that all people already have, as an inviolable worth that inheres in their potential to live meaningful lives; and (ii) something that people seek to realise through morally good behaviour in historically-situated relationships. This understanding of human dignity can be used as both an interpretive lens and a normative vision. It is interpretive because it reveals how various attitudes to biobanking and the various proposed consent regimes – presumed, broad, and specific – might all be underpinned by appeals to human dignity. It is a normative vision because, given that all of these positions can be underpinned as morally meaningful with respect to human dignity, provision should be made for all of the possible consent regimes in law and in biobanking practice. Nonetheless, where compromise cannot be avoided, then, at the very least, human dignity understood as the human potential to live a meaningful moral life must be protected.